All our righteous scumbags

Sam Thielman:

Julian Assange—the guy who graduated, like, seven years ago, but can finally grow a beard—has now shown up to the party, and promptly been asked to leave. On Thursday, as Assange was removed from the Ecuadorian embassy in London by UK authorities to face possible extradition to the US, press freedom advocates all seemed to sigh heavily and in unison—like parents forced to pick up their hard-partying kids.

Press-freedom cases are a mangy bunch. Drill deep enough into the stories of the people mentioned above and you will see that all of them were prosecuted or otherwise punished for some bizarre and tasteless variation on an activity journalists have to perform every day. And for better or worse, we have to be on their team.

Assange has been credibly accused of rape, twice—once by a woman who is now seeking to have her case reopened in Sweden. Assange also distributed emails and documents that had been stolen from the Democratic National Committee and the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign, some of which were then altered, probably by the Russian security service the GRU or one of its proxies, as part of an initiative by the Russian military to support the election of Donald Trump.

The problem for free-press advocates is that Assange is being indicted by a federal grand jury for something else entirely. A March 2018 indictment, unsealed on Thursday, alleges that, in 2010, Assange went beyond the behavior case law is generally understood to allow of journalists: he offered to help US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning break the encryption on a password in the hopes of acquiring further sensitive information. She had already sent information about activity in Iraq and Afghanistan to him for publication and dissemination to other publishers around the world.